Many riders appear to have gotten the message. On Caltrain, ridership appears to have dropped off over the past week, with morning trains that are typically standing-room-only now featuring a wealth of empty seats. With many tech workers now working from home, a Tuesday morning train was three-quarters empty as it approached the Palo Alto station. One conductor compared the ridership levels to those during the Great Recession in 2008-2009.
Caltrain generally tracks ridership on a monthly basis, with numbers for March typically not available until late April, agency spokesman Alex Eisenhart said. Given the circumstances, Caltrain is planning to release some preliminary numbers next week. That said, train conductors are reporting seeing fewer riders during peak commuting hours. This, he said, could either mean that fewer people are riding or that more people are shifting to off-peak trains, in accordance with recommendations from public health leaders to avoid crowded spaces.
"It's very likely many people are staying at home and working from home," Eisenhart said.
But while transit agencies are providing advice, they are not preparing to modify their schedules just yet. Neither Caltrain nor the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority had made any decision to change service levels as of Tuesday evening, though Eisenhart said that Caltrain may have to reconsider the extra service it provides to large events at San Jose's SAP Center and Chase Center and Oracle Park in San Francisco.
He noted Santa Clara County's order on Monday to cancel large gatherings in the county. If events get canceled, so would the Caltrain services associated with those events, he said.
Like other transportation agencies, Caltrain has been taking its cues from county health officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The San Mateo County Transit District, which administers the SamTrans bus service and Caltrain, is maintaining regular contact with local public health agencies, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the CDC, the district's CEO Jim Hartnett said in a video explaining the agency's response.
On its website, Caltrain pointed to the CDC's determination that immediate risk posed by COVID-19 to the public remains relatively low. The agency encouraged riders to wash their hands with soap before and after riding public transit; to avoid eating while onboard; to cover coughs and sneezes with their elbows; and to avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth.
"While our buses and trains are cleaned and sanitized regularly, taking these simple precautions is in the best way to minimize your risk of exposure," Hartnett said in the video. "We will continue to monitor the situation as it unfolds and respond as necessary, in partnership with local public health and transportation agencies."
The Palo Alto Shuttle also plans to maintain its regular schedule, said Chief Transportation Officer Philip Kamhi. The city has a dedicated webpage offering information about preventive measures residents should take to reduce risk of respiratory illnesses, which can be found at cityofpaloalto.org. The city has also put together a flyer that includes a "Frequently Asked Questions" section and is being printed and distributed to passengers on shuttles, he said.
The VTA is similarly retaining its regular schedule and ramping up its educational offerings in response to COVID-19. The agency underscored on its website that surface transmission is "not a significant focus at this time." The VTA's page notes that the CDC has recommended frequent, routine cleaning of surfaces — advice that the VTA said "aligns with (its) protocols."
VTA buses and light-rail vehicles are cleaned daily, the agency announced. In addition, service workers wipe down the interior and frequently touched surfaces are disinfected using a bleach-based cleaning solution, its page states.
"Our goal is to keep our employees and riders informed on how best to stay healthy and prevent exposure to viruses," the VTA page states. "VTA employees are receiving ongoing updates and tools (like gloves and travel hand sanitizer) to reduce exposure. Additionally, hand sanitizer dispensers have been placed at all work divisions."
Andrea Gemmet contributed to this report.
This story contains 739 words.
Stories older than 90 days are available only to subscribing members. Please help sustain quality local journalism by becoming a subscribing member today.
If you are already a subscriber, please log in so you can continue to enjoy unlimited access to stories and archives. Subscriptions start at $5 per month and may be cancelled at any time.